Climate crisis: UK, US and Norway unite for $1bn rainforest protection initiative

‘Tropical forests are indispensable to fight climate change and biodiversity loss, and have received far less attention and finance than they deserve,’ says Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg

Joe Sommerlad
Wednesday 28 April 2021 15:31 BST
Related video: Greta Thunberg issues 'emergency alert' over climate crisis

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Louise Thomas

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The UK, US and Norwegian governments have come together to launch a $1bn fundraising initiative to support the world’s tropical rainforests as part of a bid to tackle deforestation and reduce harmful emissions in the atmosphere by 2030.

The Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (Leaf) Coalition was unveiled at US president Joe Biden’s virtual White House climate summit on Earth Day and seeks to harness public-private financing to secure investment in safeguarding the natural world.

“Tropical forests are indispensable to fight climate change and biodiversity loss, and have received far less attention and finance than they deserve,” said Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg.

“The Leaf Coalition takes a first, crucial step to change that.”

The scheme is timely given that an estimated 12 per cent of the world’s primary tropical forest was cleared between 2019 and 2020, including 4.2m hectares of humid forest - vital for carbon storage and biodiversity - an area roughly the size of the Netherlands.

Countries, states and provinces are being invited to apply to the Leaf Coalition by 22 July in order to receive funding in support of their emissions reduction and replanting efforts, which they will receive on the condition that they meet key performance indicators between 2022 and 2026, with the coalition encouraging the participation of indigenous groups and local communities.

US climate envoy John Kerry said the scheme - which has already secured the support of multinationals Amazon, Airbnb, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, McKinsey, Nestle, Salesforce and Unilever - as a ”groundbreaking example of the scale and type of collaboration needed to fight the climate crisis”.

Nathaniel Keohane of the US Environmental Defence Fund hailed the green financing model as “a game-changer”, according to Climate Home News, and said the coalition could eventually “channel tens of billions of dollars per year into ensuring sustainable livelihoods for Indigenous peoples and forest communities… and protecting global forests”.

Participants in the coalition are in active discussions with about a dozen jurisdictions and Costa Rica, Guyana and three Brazilian states have taken initial steps to become eligible to enroll in the initiative.

This is particularly positive as the latter accounts for more tree clearance than anywhere else in the world, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bolivia and Indonesia.

A burning area of Amazon rainforest south of Novo Progresso in Para State
A burning area of Amazon rainforest south of Novo Progresso in Para State (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty)

Brazil’s right wing populist leader, Jair Bolsonaro, used his appearance at Mr Biden’s summit to pledge an end to illegal logging in the Amazon by 2030 - as well as to promise carbon neutrality by 2050 and to attack developed nations, who he attacked for “burning fossil fuels in the course of the past two centuries”.

But his administration also failed to come to an agreement with the US on a deal to safeguard the country’s rainforests, despite optimism that an accord could be forged prior to the summit.

Last week’s White House gathering saw the US pledge a 50-52 per cent emissions reduction target from 2005 levels by 2030 and the UK aim for a 78 per cent drop from 1990 levels by 2035, with Canada, Japan and South Africa all making similar commitments.

Washington further said it intended to hit climate funding of $5.7bn a year by 2024 while Westminster said it was aiming to invest £11.6bn over the next five years.

China and Russia were also among the 40 nations taking part, both suggesting they were open to multilateral co-operation but neither announcing any specific new targets.

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